Written and Directed by Gordon Barr
Musical Direction by Andy Manning
There’s a touching duality to this year’s Byre Theatre production of Snow White, featuring a tag-line theme of re-writing our stories. Traditionally, pantos of old suffer the lop-sided representations of their fairy-tale foundations, swinging the opposite way to recover this ended in a loss of something. But not here, Gordon Barr locates a sweet spot in adapting Snow White for a contemporary audience without sacrificing the agency or the magic of the original fairy-tale princess.
Instead, what the Byre Theatre (with Bard in the Botanics) pantomime achieves is an uplifting celebration which crams in as much character and festive cheer as physically possible without overstuffing the show.
With her nose stuck in a book, writer and director Barr’s Snow White moves away from the less passive fairy-tale princess and into the realms of a protagonist in their own right. The story follows similar beats to the one we know and love, but thankfully advances aspects of the character’s autonomy and swaps the seven Dwarves for a set of rag-tag and sometimes flatulent Forest Crew (this evening played by the stellar and supportive Apple cast).
Whisking audiences to the land of Fantasia, musical director Andy Manning (last seen at the Traverse for Crocodile Rock and A New Life) manages to breathe a sense of rhythm and movement into the Fife crowds. A friendly match for the bold and bright show, chiefly designed by Carys Hobbs who utilises a mix of reflective surfaces and traditional set dressings to offer a regal and festive feel. The show’s composition mingles between whimsical, and even intense for the more villainous or spooky scenes in the Forest, paired well with Benny Goodman’s lighting.
Vocally, the production has a cheerful melody but slips into the expectant panto pop music to form the bulk. Mercifully there are additions to the lyrics which tailor the story and offer a richer tie to Arden’s tight choreography. Belting it out, communicating a sense of emotion and enjoyment through each song is the titular Princess themselves, Stephanie McGregor. Bringing their renowned cheer for pantomime passions, McGregor’s a fine addition once more to the Byre cast and a firm audience favourite alongside a few (in)famous faces.
Now, if you’ve had the pleasure of encountering Alan Steele’s dame prominence before, we’re terribly sorry for the therapy bills. Steele’s Nanny TicklePenny really is one of the hardest working Panto dames in the biz, and so effortlessly forms an affinity with even the most miserable of festive sceptics that the entirety of the show is uplifted anytime Steele crashes into the stage with their smile, timing, and ability to throw chaos to the wind and de-rail a scene. Additional sincerity in Steele’s performance shines through, a remnant of their year-round talents and touching ability to locate the thread of emotion in the most comedic and sometimes distressing scenes. There isn’t a cast member, young or old, who doesn’t profit from Steele’s presence.
But Show White doesn’t merely boast the best Panto Dame in the land, there’s one thing which no other production can hold a candle to – a proper panto baddie. It’s a rare gift, being this good at being bad and for a while now (more years than they’ll admit), choreographer, creative, and performer Stephen Arden has been living the low life as one of the best panto villains in Scotland has to offer. Arden revels in the sneering and the boos, rolling with the audience’s disdain and throwing it right back into the appreciative crowd. Queen Lucretia Visage stands out against this year’s batch of Panto antagonists as genuinely sinister and intimidating as they are comedic. And don’t think they leave all the dancing to the youngsters – certainly not: Arden taking on a duet with co-star Robert Elkin which puts even the Strictly professionals to shame.
After eight years, Elkin remains a part of The Byre Theatre’s Panto scene. So, they must be doing something right. Well, as with previous years, their performance for many is likely to be a starring role of the night. Fluttering between two principal roles as the Queen’s slave in the mirror Mirabel, and the vainglorious Prince Valiant, the dedication from Snow White’s cast is striking. What’s more, the genius in Valiant’s writing and characterisation turns the most under-written of characters, the fairy-tale prince, into an absolute hoot of sharp turns, physical comedy, and timing. Together with Arden and Steele, the ad-libs and breaks in momentum make for a welcome dose of chaotic energy which Elkin thrives off.
From the dame to the prince, to Hoddit and Doddit, and Snow White herself, every performer makes this show what it is. So just what is that? Something magical, something clever, and something which champions its idea of re-invention without sacrificing what made it so special in the first place. Barr’s Snow White follows traditional Panto expectations but is elevated by a superb cast of rogues, heroes, and hard workers. No audience will leave Grumpy; everyone will leave Happy, and for the
victim’s guests in the front row – perhaps a touch Bashful. Snow White captures the communal vigour of a traditional pantomime but exudes a contemporary and enjoyable lustre like few others.
No One Leaves Grumpy; Everyone Leaves Happy.
Snow White runs at the Byre Theatre until December 31st.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan